The World Youth Day in Krakow (Poland) opened with a crowd of young people, about 200 thousand people, who have peacefully occupied the great lawn of Blonia. The ceremony began with the WYD anthem, while a group of young people carried a large wooden cross and the icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani, historical symbols of that Day, to the altar.
A huge image of the Merciful Jesus was placed on stage to remember the deepest meaning of this event, which was comprehended into the larger framework of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy wanted by Pope Francis this year. Besides, there were also the relics of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska on the altar, placed in golden monstrance, “as a visible sign of the invisible presence of the Apostles of Mercy”, as Cardinal Dziwisz pointed out; then he went on to say, addressing the young people who surrounded the stage: “The image of the Church depends on us, our faith, and our holiness.”
Stanislav Dziwisz is the Polish cardinal known for his forty years of service in quality of Pope John Paul II’s private secretary; Pope Benedict XVI named him Archbishop of Krakow, a position previously held by former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla; John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope to have sit on the papal throne after more than 440 years, was proclaimed Saint by Pope Francis on 27 April 2014.
It is no coincidence therefore that Francis, before leaving for Krakow, prayed at the tomb of John Paul II, not only because of the Polish origins of the saint, but mostly because Wojtyla was the first to establish the World Youth Days, in Rome back on March 31, 1986. The excellent response of the Roman day led the Pope to the decision to continue organizing such events every two years in a city of the world chosen by the Pope himself.
The first international WYD was held in Argentina – homeland to Pope Bergoglio – in Buenos Aires; it was held on 11 and 12 April 1987, during the Palm Sunday: on that occasion, nine hundred thousand people crowded on the impressive Avenida 9 de Julio. The second World Youth Day was held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 1989; from this meeting on, the World Day has become longer, with three days of catechesis before the final celebration. The meeting was no longer held on Palm Sunday, but in the height of summer. After this choice, subsequent international meetings became longer and longer and more and more articulated, taking the present shape of a five-day long event.
The following city to have hosted the event was Częstochowa, in Poland. A doubly significant choice for Pope John Paul II who brought the WYD for the first time not only to his native country in 1991, but especially beyond the Iron Curtain, thus allowing young people from the states of the defunct Soviet bloc to partake in it.
The next edition, held in 1993, took place in a country with a Catholic majority, the United States of America. The novelty of this edition was the celebration of the Via Crucis with the Pope, which took place during the five days in the company of the youth. In 1995, the day came to Asia, in Manila (Philippines capital), the most Catholic country on that continent. It was the most crowded edition ever: five million young people greeted the white cross and the Polish Pope.
For the following edition, in Rome, he had to wait three years, not two, so as to insert the meeting on calendar of the Jubilee of 2000. Over two and a half million pilgrims came to the Eternal City to participate in the initiatives, which culminated in a vigil and Mass at the Tor Vergata esplanade. On that occasion, the Italian media coined the term “Papaboys” to describe the young participants. The XVII World Youth Day was held in Toronto, Canada, on 23 to 28 July 2002. It was also the last meeting presided by Pope Wojtyla, who partook in it in bad health.
The new Pontiff, Benedict XVI, welcomes young people in August 2005 in the city of Cologne, Germany, his homeland. “We have come to worship him” was the slogan of the event: the same words spoken by the Three Kings before the manger of baby Jesus; their relics, according to tradition, are kept in the city on the Rhine. The 2008 edition was held in Sydney, Australia. On that occasion, the tragic history of Australian aborigines received a lot of attention; the XXVI edition was held in Madrid, Spain, from 16 to 21 August 2011; the number of pilgrims present at the final Mass was estimated at about 2 million people. From 23 to 28 July 2013 took place the XXVIII edition, the first one with Pope Francis, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a turnout estimated at over 3 million pilgrims.
This latest edition takes place in Poland, the homeland of St. John Paul II, founder and patron of the World Youth Days, who never considered himself its founder; the saint said: “Young people created them.” “Blessed are the merciful for they shall find mercy”: the fifth of the eight beatitudes, announced by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mountain, is the topic of the five days during which Pope Francis will embrace thousands of children who have come to Krakow, regarded as the world center of God’s Mercy cult, especially after the appearance of the Merciful Jesus to Sister Faustina.
The first of Pope Francis’ meetings with young people will take place today, during the welcome ceremony in Jordan at Blonie Park. But before the meeting, in the morning, the Pontiff will celebrate the Holy Mass on the occasion of the 1050th anniversary of Poland’s Baptism: on April 14 966, the Polish duke Miesszko accepted the baptism. This day is considered the beginning of the Polish State.